Mucruss Abbey, Killarney

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter II-8 | Start of chapter

Before quitting Killarney I resolved to pay a second visit to the ruin of Mucruss Abbey, which, though not comparable in extent or architectural grandeur to many similar edifices in Ireland, is, from the beautiful seclusion of its situation, one of the most interesting monastic remains I have met with in this country. The Abbey, of which I have already spoken, overhangs the lake in one of the finest parts of Mucruss demesne. Embosomed in the shade of lofty and venerable ash, oak, yew, elm, and sycamore trees,—festooned with trailing plants, and garlanded with ivy of the darkest and most luxuriant foliage,—it is more beautiful in its loneliness and decay than it could have been in its pristine state of neatness and perfection.

The exact period of the foundation of Mucruss Abbey has not been well ascertained, but that a church was situated here from a very remote time, appears from a record in a manuscript collection of Annals in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, which states that the church of Irrelagh (Mucruss) was burned in the year 1192. The present ruins are, however, altogether of a later date, and are the remains of a monastery of Conventual Franciscans, erected by the McCarthys, Princes of Desmond, and dedicated to the blessed Trinity. It owes its present state of preservation to the repairs which it received in 1602, and subsequently in 1662, as appears from a black letter inscription placed on the north side of the choir. The church consists of a nave and choir, separated by a small belfry, which is pierced by a narrow Gothic door, connecting the nave and choir. On the south side of the nave there is a small chapel; on the north side lies the cloister, which is the most perfect and interesting portion of the building. Within the walls of Mucruss Abbey some of the Irish kings are supposed to be interred: the vault of the McCarthy Mores is placed in the centre of the choir, and is marked by a flat stone in the floor, on which the coronet and arms of the Earl of Glencare are rudely sculptured; a more stately monument designates the resting-place of O'Donoghoe of the Glens, who is buried in the same vault.

The portion of ground on the south of the church has for ages past been the favourite cemetery of the peasantry of the surrounding district; and it is not uncommon for persons who die at great distances from this place, to lay their injunctions on their friends and relatives to have their remains conveyed thither for sepulture,—firmly convinced that their spirits would not enjoy rest if their mortal part was consigned to any earth but that of the blessed Mucruss! Such requests are always religiously complied with by the survivors of the deceased, though the expense incurred often utterly ruins the person who executes the pious task. The cloisters consist of an arcade of Gothic arches, the pillars and mouldings of which are of grey marble: the solemn and imposing effect they produce is greatly heightened by the venerable and majestic yew-tree, which rises like a stately column from the centre of the enclosure, and spreading its dark and lofty branches overhead, suggested to Mr. Smith, who wrote the History of Kerry, to compare it, with more truth than poetry, to "a great umbrella." This remarkable tree, which there is no reason to doubt is coeval with the abbey, has ever been regarded with the deepest religious veneration by the peasantry, many of whom shrink back with terror on entering within its precincts, and few can remain long without feeling impatient to escape from its oppressive influence.